The dust has barely settled on the Copa de la Liga Profesional and we already have another competition upon us to delight our eyes. Exactly 12 days passed between Boca Juniors’ capturing of the prior trophy at the expense of Tigre a 1-1 draw between Barracas Central and Central Córdoba, which heralded a rather low-key beginning to the Liga Profesional to take us right through to the World Cup.
Indeed, there was barely time to lament the lack of football on our screens, what with Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana action filling the void midweek – not to mention another crown for Argentina, who downed Italy and Estonia by a total aggregate score of 8-0, five of which came in one game from Lionel Messi. In contrast to the split format of the Copa this tournament will take the shape of a more traditional league, with whoever is on top once the 27th and final game is played taking the title and succeeding River Plate as reigning champions.
As chance would have it, the first round of fixtures ended much as the last weekend of group games had concluded: with Racing Club looking down at the rest. Fernando Gago’s charges had suffered two heavy blows in the interim, losing out on penalties to Boca in the semi-finals before going down to an almost inexplicable home defeat to Uruguay’s River Plate to extinguish their interest in the Sudamericana, and the pressure was on to show that their early season form was no flash in the pan. Opponents Huracán were certainly not in the mood to hand them an easy evening last Saturday as they pushed and harried throughout but Racing eventually emerged unscathed from the test, winning 2-0 with goals from Tomás Chancalay and Jonathan Gómez in a win that was a timely boost to their confidence following the travails of the past month.
One of La Academia’s presumed title rivals, meanwhile, failed to hit the ground running. All of River’s concerns about life after Julián Álvarez were magnified as they were held 0-0 to Defensa y Justicia while the Manchester City-bound striker shared the Argentina attack with Messi, underlining how important the identity of his replacement is to Marcelo Gallardo’s aspirations in 2022. Among the candidates is apparently Uruguay legend Luis Suárez, courted by compatriot and River director of football Enzo Francescoli, though enticing the ex-Liverpool and Barcelona ace back across the Atlantic Ocean promises to be no easy task.
Copa champions Boca enjoyed a more positive start at the Bombonera, albeit admittedly against a rather less formidable rival. Arsenal were sunk by two goals in two minutes from Agustín Sandez and Sebastián Villa to go down 2-1, while Tigre bounced back from their disappointment in Córdoba with an impressive victory over Unión and another Copa semi-finalist, Argentinos Juniors, dug deep to also kick off with a win over Aldosivi. And two of the most highly anticipated clashes of the weekend, Sunday’s Platense Clásico between Estudiantes and Gimnasia and another clásico fought out by struggling San Lorenzo and Independiente, both ended in predictable draws.
The La Plata clash did at least give us one of the most bizarre stories of the weekend: a criminal complaint against famous restaurateur and Gimnasia fan Edgardo ‘Toto’ Medina for breaking into Estudiantes’ stadium and burying a medallion given to him by Pope Francis to ‘jinx’ the home side. Medina will be consoled by the fact that the gambit appeared to pay off handsomely as the Lobo held one of the Copa de la Liga Profesional’s top sides, and with any luck we can look forward to many more mystical interventions as this new league gets into the swing of things.